Trusts selected under the NHS’s flagship digital programme are finally receiving millions in promised central funds – allaying fears that the digital pot had been raided again.

HSJ understands several “global digital exemplar” trusts received their first tranche of funding last week, while others were expecting the money within days.

NHS England confirmed funding was going out to all 16 acute exemplar trusts.

A spokesman said: “All 16 acute exemplars will shortly have received the first round of their funding. The programme… will help organisations deploy advanced digital technologies and develop ‘blueprints’ for others to replicate success quickly and cost efficiently.”

The seven mental health exemplar trusts, announced in January, are not included in this first funding phase, with their money expected later in the year.

The money to acute trusts is the first distribution to providers from the £1.3bn Paperless 2020 fund, announced by Jeremy Hunt in February 2016.

If all the exemplar programmes announced by the NHS England so far are fully funded, including the “fast followers” scheme, £295m will eventually be distributed to at least 43 trusts.

HSJ understands the first round of payments to acute trusts range between £2.5m and £4m each. Each trust will eventually receive up to £10m, to be matched locally, through till 2020, coming to a total of £160m.

When the first 12 exemplars were announced last September, some trusts were told to expect funding as early as November 2016.

However, when the government had not distributed any funding by March, fears grew that the pot would be raided by ministers, as has happened to previous major technology funds.

The Treasury belatedly approved funding for the programme in April, but concerns persisted about a lack of communication from the centre.

The funding released should help accelerate stalled digital projects at exemplar trusts. One senior NHS source said the money would be quickly used at their trust to expand the digital team.

The global exemplar programme is based on the recommendations in Professor Robert Wachter’s review on NHS IT, in which he argued the NHS should fund the most digitally advanced trusts first.

These trusts would then develop digital blueprints, based on their own experience, for the rest of the NHS to follow at speed.

NHS England’s outlined this programme in the Next Steps document in March, saying the exemplars would link up with at least one fast follower trust to develop these digital blueprints.

NHS trusts will also no longer be able to procure their own IT systems. Instead they will choose a digital exemplar trust to partner with and roll out “the same system” with some small changes to adjust for local variations.

How this will work remains to be seen, with many trusts likely to be reluctant to rip out well established clinical system to align with an exemplar’s blueprint.

At Health + Care in London last week, several digital exemplar leaders suggested partner trusts could keep their existing IT systems and import digital “best practice” that would not rely on any one system.

The NHS’s global digital exemplars

The 16 acute trust exemplars:

  • City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust
  • Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust
  • Salford Royal Hospitals Trust
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital FT
  • University Hospitals Birmingham FT
  • Luton and Dunstable University Hospital Trust
  • West Suffolk FT
  • Royal Free London FT
  • Oxford University Hospitals FT
  • Taunton and Somerset FT
  • University Hospitals Bristol FT
  • University Hospitals Southampton FT
  • Cambridge University Hospitals FT
  • Imperial College Healthcare Trust (with Chelsea and Westminster FT)
  • Newcastle upon Type Hospitals FT
  • Alder Hey Children’s FT

The seven mental health exemplars:

  • Berkshire Healthcare FT
  • Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health FT
  • Mersey Care FT
  • Northumberland, Tyne and Wear FT
  • Oxford Health FT
  • South London and Maudsley FT
  • Worcestershire Health and Care Trust